BANGKOK – Thai University students, Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Munkong, 25, have admitted insulting royalty in a play “The Wolf Bride” they performed about a 1973 uprising.
Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong, face up to 15 years in jail under lese majeste laws, which protect the royals from any insults.
“Both defendants plead guilty to the charges,” said the judge at Ratchada Criminal Court in northeast Bangkok, adding sentence would be passed on Feb. 23.
They were each charged with one count of lese majeste linked to the performance, which marked the 40th anniversary of a pro-democracy student protest that was brutally crushed by authorities in October 1973.
Both accused were brought into court barefoot — Patiwat’s feet bound with chains — at a hearing attended by a few dozen people including their relatives, students and an observer from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Patiwat, a final-year student at Khon Kaen University, acted in the piece — which was about a fictional monarchy — while Porntip coordinated the production as well as also playing a small role.
Rights groups say cases breaching Section 112 of the criminal code have surged since the army seized power in May, as the military burnishes its reputation as the defender of the royal family.
A recent study by the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights said 18 new arrests have been made since the coup, with outstanding cases fast-tracked through the courts.
The junta says it was forced to seize power after months of anti-government protests. It vows to expunge corruption and protect the monarchy.
On Nov. 18 a radio show host was jailed for five years by a military court for breaching the lese majeste law.
A few days earlier a 24-year-old student was jailed for two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to defaming the monarchy in a message posted on Facebook under a pseudonym.
Critics say the lese majeste law has been politicized, noting that many of those charged in recent years have been linked to the Red Shirts who support fugitive former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thailand’s long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.
Thaksin, the older brother of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was toppled in a previous coup in 2006 and lives in self-exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.
Both local and international media must practice heavy self-censorship when covering the royal family. Even repeating details of charges could break the law.